Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus vs Religion?

There has been a video going around the last week of a young man explaining why he is into Jesus but not religion. Here it is.

At first glance this video has much to commend. I think it brings up some important distinctions between what Christianity is often portrayed to be, but is not. But I am also uncomfortable with his "anti-religion" rant. I was going to critique his thoughts on religion, but then Zack Hunt over at the American Jesus posted a longish post responding to the video. He has seven points. I have provided the titles and a snippet of each point. You can read his full post here.

1. We don’t know what our target is.
Religion is not the evil Bethke or so many others portray it to be. Simply defined religion is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ador or faith.” See? Not that scary. In fact, religion can be very good. 

 2. When we separate Jesus from the religious community then we are left with a Jesus out of context whom we are free to shape and mold in any way we see fit. 
In other words, the “Jesus and me” gospel this video and so many of us proclaim is a path that has only one destination: idolatry. Not the kind of idolatry that has us bowing down to golden calves, but the kind that has Jesus looking and acting suspiciously like ourselves. 

3. Jesus didn’t have a problem with religion, he had a problem with legalism.
Jesus’ issue wasn’t with the Jewish faith, i.e. religion, which he himself was a part of. He took issue with those who would use God’s commandments to exploit and oppress others. This is a profoundly important distinction.

4. If you’re looking for the person that hated organized religion, by which you really mean “the institutional church”,  then you’re looking for a guy named Martin Luther, not Jesus of Nazareth.
It is Luther, not Jesus, who raises such a fuss about the institution of religion and rightfully so. The church during his day was profoundly corrupt at the highest levels and was in deep need of reform. Note, however, that even Luther was interested in “reform” (thus the term “Reformation”), not “abolishment”. 

5. Jesus never preached that we are saved by faith alone.
If there is anything that is at the heart of the modern Protestant Evangelical gospel it’s the belief in “sola fide”; the idea that we are saved by “faith alone.” Once again, your champion for this cause is Martin Luther, not Jesus.  

 6. The premise of this video and the gospel it proclaims is simply disingenuous.
 If you go to, participate in, and support a local church, whether it’s a huge mega-church, an “average” sized rural church, or a small house church that meets in somebody’s living room then you support organized religion. And that’s ok.

7. When we create a dichotomy between Jesus and religion we simaltaneously create an unnecessary and dangerous antagonism towards the church and the people that participate in it.
Bethke says “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?” I’ll give the guy a pass for the first half of this statement. I assume he’s a product of our American educational system and if so, it explains his understanding of history or lack thereof.As for the second accusation that church fails to feed the poor. I don’t know how to label this charge anything but absolute ignorance. Even the biggest mega-churches that get so often get ridiculed for any number of reasons, almost always have ongoing outreach ministries. There are very few outreach organizations in this country or any other that are not faith-based or at least affiliated with a religious organization.


  1. John, this word "Religion" used here reflects sort of an evolved definition of the word. At some point in the 90's there floated around in Evangelical circles a cliche/catch phrase that "Jesus doesn't want religion; he wants relationship". So in a sense, just like the author noted, when they say "religion" they really mean "legalism". Evangelicalism became the antithesis of rule-based, cultural Christianity where as long as you put in your time on Sunday you are a Christian and "OK with God." The Evangelicals pushed Christianity as a movement of faith rather than some cultural duty. The point is that there is a reactionary element to this. "It's not _______; it's ___________ ." So while I agree with the video in the context of what it's reacting to, it's not a very good (or clear) universal principal.

    1. Eric,

      I agree. It muddies the waters more than I think he intended.

  2. I agree with the question_driver. Even in the early 70s, and probably long before that, we talked about 'relation,' not 'religion.' One of the issues may be that the most visible and vocal expressions of the Church, namely conservative protestants, have pretty much become marginalized in the larger conversation about meaningful culture. When a part of the church becomes the defacto spokesgroup for the whole, lots of interesting, and not so positive things, can reveal themselves.

  3. Number 5 is really an excellent point. You can't claim a core belief that is the outcome of centuries of church theology (and not actually a teaching of Jesus) and then say you don't have a religion.

  4. Argument 1 doesn't take into account the definition of "religion" he's using; in fact, he indirectly defines the "religion" he's referencing throughout - the religion that is ritualistic, based on rules, and ever present in modern religious practice.

    Argument 2 is not valid because he has not thrown out the Bible. If we stay true to a Biblical Christ, He does not become what we want Him to be. He is still God, He is still all powerful. The video does not renounce these facts.

    Argument 3 carries back to argument 1: really, one of the "religious" aspects the video is attacking is, in fact, legalism. The two words are often used simultaneously, albeit somewhat ambiguous at times. In any case, this is exactly what he's attacking.

    Argument 4 in no way goes against the video. It merely brings up an important historical compete with Jesus? Luther is not nearly an adequate replacement for God.

    Argument 5 is true. However, I don't believe the video was explicitly saying our works are worthless. If your FAITH is in the right place - in other words, you are entrusting God with your life - I believe your works, or at least your effort towards being a better person, will inevitably follow. He doesn't claim we can do whatever we want once we have faith, he just doesn't clearly tackle that question to avoid diluting his main point.

    Argument 6 forsakes the fact that he wasn't attacking CHURCH, necessarily. He even said he loves God's church. Biblically, the church is not the building, but rather the people themselves. Organized, perhaps. Ritualistic and legalistic? Those are the unncessary aspects "organized religion" does not need.

    Argument 7 brings up some interesting points, but attacks the video on some moot points. Historically, religion HAS been misused and has caused huge wars. They really don't focus on this as much as they should in the American education system. Now, is it true that many churches do give money to the poor and organize outreaches to help those in need? Yes. But the process is often times strangely displaced: money is given en masse and, sometimes, only a few people actually GO and DO GOOD with it. Americans give with their wallets but hardly with their time, effort, or energy; hardly with the heart of Christ, which I believe is his argument about this in the video.

    1. I don't know why ritualism and legalism should be lumped together. Rituals can indeed be a very important part of relationships. Take the wedding ceremony and subsequent celebrations of the anniversary. These are rituals through which relationship is defined and given meaning.

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  6. I think it's spot on, personally. I liked the video -- somewhat, but there was something that left me feeling uncomfortable and I couldn't articulate it. I think this post does it well.

  7. Scapegoating at its finest! My thoughts can be found here.

  8. I guess You should ask d Holy Spirit and always speak as he says you should.

  9. i think he means that if Jesus would come among us now, as a human body, he would go to Vatican and say something like: " i think you miss the points…"

  10. i think discussing about religion vs Jesus is like discussing road vs car. Without religion how would you have known about Jesus? And if Jesus would come among us now will be not possible for the whole world to hear and know him. So he will still need religion.

  11. I agree with alot of it, i am religious and i do not understand why so many people attack religion because i see that is not the religion but the people who follow, ive heard so much about how religion is bad but if u really think about it, the people are the ones who keep it going so dont blame the religion blame the fakers who would rather take it for the benefits and not for the challenges. jesus had religion and religion needs jesus in the modern beliefs of God And Jesus. i believe in God but i see to many lukewarm believers or cafateria believers, if you want to make a good name for your religion then show its goodness and not its flaws